By Charles Price
Now let me ask you, if you have got your Bible, to turn to the book of Acts in the New Testament, Acts Chapter 26; I am going to read there in just a moment. If you have been with us in recent days you will know we are talking about living in the will of God.
And for several weeks I have been talking about the big picture issues related to that. The fact that God has a general will and plan for this world and for people and that the personal will of God for our lives is always found in the context of the general will of God, which we need to live in obedience to. 95%, I would say, 95% of the will of God is in this book and that is where we need to live and that is where we need to discern and find out and receive God's general will for His world.
And we talked about other issues, the fact that the whole world is in the hands of the evil one, as Scripture says, and yet in the midst of that, as Job says, "No purpose of Yours can be thwarted," he says to God. That God is working out purpose in a fallen, broken, sinful environment.
But I want to talk this morning and for several weeks now, about the issue of personal guidance. How do I discern and follow the will of God that He has for me personally?
And I want to read to you from Acts 26. The context of what I am going to read is that Paul is in prison in Caesarea. He is on there on the basis of some false charges. The Roman governor Felix recognizes the falsehood of those charges and he says to Paul that "if you pay a bribe, you can walk free." But Paul didn't pay bribes and so he was kept in jail for two years, which is the length of the remaining years of Felix' term as Roman governor of Judea.
And then he was recalled to Rome, replaced by a man called Festus. When Festus came he wanted to clear up the backlog of cases and he brought Paul out and listened to his case.
And then King Agrippa - now you all know about King Herod; King Agrippa was in the line of the Herodian kings. He came to Caesarea to pay tribute to the new Roman governor because the Herodian kings were of course under the authority of Rome.
And when he came, Festus said, "I have an interesting man in my prison. His name is Paul. Maybe you would like to meet him and listen to him." And Paul was brought out to explain his case to Festus and also to King Agrippa.
And we are going to read when Paul comes to a point in this explanation where he has described how that he met with Jesus Christ on the Damascus Road, how that his life was revolutionized, how that he was told he would preach the Gospel to the Gentiles, how he was told he would suffer, that he would enter into persecution. And this was many years earlier this had happened.
And having described that, in Verse 19 he says,
"So then, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven. First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and to the Gentiles also, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds.
"That is why the Jews seized me in the temple courts and tried to kill me. But I have had God's help to this very day, and so I stand here and testify to small and great alike. I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen - that the Christ would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would proclaim light to his own people and to the Gentiles."
That is as far as I am going to read. And I want to talk this morning about the phrase that Paul uses there in Verse 19 when he says,
"I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven."
I want to talk about a vision from heaven. Now I am going to address myself mainly to younger people here this morning. You can decide whether you are younger or not. But older people, don't go to sleep; I am going to speak to you at the end because I have something important to say in the light of what I am going to say in the first part of this message.
But I want to talk about what is a vision from heaven. The fact that God does guide us is very clear to us in Scripture. There are many Scriptures that address this. David wrote in Psalm 37,
"The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord."
He said in Psalm 48,
"God will be our guide even to the end."
Asaph, who was the song leader in Solomon's temple, wrote in Psalm 73,
"You guide me with your counsel."
"In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will direct your paths."
"The Lord will guide you always."
Paul wrote to the Colossians,
"We have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will."
And there are many other verses that talk about the fact that God guides us, God leads us, God has a will for us and we are to be aware of that and living in that.
Now when you ask the question how does God guide us? There are a multiplicity of ways in which God guides people in the Scripture and there is no simple formula that you can simply take the formula and say, "If you meet this, this, this and this, then God will guide you and you will know what it is to be in the centre of His will.
And I think there is good reason why there is no simple formula. If there was, we would probably want to just superimpose the formula on every situation we face and not have to do business with God Himself.
You see everything in the Christian life grows out of our relationship with Jesus Christ. Now most Christians will say they have a relationship with Jesus Christ.
I find myself quite often in conversation with people about issues they come to talk to me about and it's evident they don't have a relationship with Jesus Christ. They are Christians, yes. But they don't spend time with God. They don't spend time in the Word of God. They don't read it and meditate upon it. They don't spend time in prayer. They are not able to discern the still small voice of the Holy Spirit because they do not live in an active, daily relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.
You see what we would like and prefer is some kind of spiritual GPS that just kind of leads us and guides us but which is detached from a relationship with Him. And you cannot have that.
Proverbs 3:6 says,
"In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will direct your paths."
Now directing our paths is God's responsibility but the context in which He directs our paths is "in all your ways acknowledge Him."
Now involved in acknowledging Him is our love for Him, our obedience to Him, our dependence on Him, our intimacy with Him. And you cannot shelve that because life is
too busy to spend time with God, too busy to spend time in His Word, too busy to spend time in prayer. You cannot shelve that and then just somehow assume "God please guide me" and hope that He will.
The key to being in the will of God is not becoming skilled in discerning guidance; the key is in walking humbly with God, and we cannot bypass that.
However, having said that, and that is important to say, there are things that we discover in Scripture that are ways in which God directs and guides His people. And I want to talk over several weeks about some of those things. We will take each one, as I will this morning, and detach it from any wider context, but then at the end we will have to put all these things back into relationship with each other.
And I want to talk this morning about this statement that Paul makes to King Agrippa, when looking back over his life he can say, "I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven."
Paul had a vision from heaven that right at the start of his Christian life he was told that now that he had surrendered to Jesus Christ as Lord, that he would preach the Gospel amongst his own people, amongst the Gentiles, that he would suffer for it, that he would be persecuted for it. And he says, "I was not disobedient to the vision that was given to me from heaven."
It didn't begin straightaway. It is hard to reconstruct the chronology of Paul's life but it was at least 12 years between his meeting Christ on the Damascus Road and the beginning of his first missionary journey when he did go out into the Gentile world and became the great apostle to the Gentiles - at least 12 years; more likely closer to 15. But as I say, it is hard to reconstruct it well.
Now this is not unique to Paul. There are many instances in Scripture.
Abraham, when he was 75 years of age, God took him outside one night, pointed him up to the sky and said, "How many stars can you see? I will give you as many descendants as the stars in the sky. You wife will give birth to a son and from that son will come a nation and from that nation will come a Seed and from that Seed, the whole world will be blessed."
Now he was already 75 years of age; his wife was already 65 years of age. And God gave him that vision, that vision from heaven, but nothing happened for 25 years. It was 25 years later that Isaac was born. It was the beginning of the fulfillment of that vision, but God gave him vision.
We will talk about the fact in a moment there is often a big gap between when God gives vision and the implementing of it.
When Joseph was a young man of 17, just a teenager, he had dreams, a couple of dreams in succession, both of which involved his brothers bowing down in front of him. He told his brothers about the dream. They didn't like it. They decided to get rid of him.
We talked about Joseph a few weeks ago. He was sold off as a slave to Egypt, eventually worked his way up through the prison system to become into Pharaoh's palace and eventually became second in command over the whole nation, as during 7 years of plenty, they prepared for 7 years of famine.
And two years into the famine when Joseph was 39 years of age, his brothers came to buy food. They were sent to Joseph. They came in and they bowed down in front of him, 22 years after his dream. And he probably thought to himself, "Deja vu, I saw this 22 years ago. Something is going on here. God is behind this." And so He was.
Moses, at the age of 40, did not understand why his fellow Israelites did not recognize that God was using him to deliver them from their bondage in Egypt because clearly, by that stage in his life, Moses had this sense from God, "You are the man who is going to lead the Israelites out of their bondage." But it didn't happen for another 40 years. But he had vision.
He went into the desert. His vision died during the next 40 years looking after sheep. At the age of 80 God began to implement it.
And there are many others in Scripture, which we are not going to talk about.
Now don't think, by the way, this is something which applies to those who are going to be missionaries or they are in Christian service. We sometimes subconsciously, if not consciously, have the idea that there is a kind of certain things about guidance that happen if you are going to be a missionary - you need a call for that. But if you are going to be a carpenter or you are going to go into business or industry or into politics and governments or you are going to go into the professions, you kind of don't need that.
This is not about something special for certain people in Christian ministry, because as I have pointed out to you before, that most of the leading characters in the Bible were not preachers. They were in all kinds of business and leadership and governance.
Abraham was not a preacher. Moses did some preaching; that wasn't his main function in life. David was not a preacher; he was a singer; he wrote some beautiful psalms, but he was a king.
So please don't think, well this doesn't apply to me because I am not in some kind of "Christian ministry".
This is not guidance for missionaries; this is regular Joe and regular Jane guidance. And I want to ask two questions this morning: number one: what is vision?
Well it is not something we make up; it is something which has to be received. Paul talks about his vision from heaven. Now it may seem to be very subjective and to some extent it is. But it must have its origin in God.
Jeremiah criticized prophets in his day in Jeremiah 23:16 when he said,
"They speak visions from their own minds, not from the mouth of the LORD."
In other words, they had visions, but their visions came from their own minds. They sat around and said to one another, "What is our preferred future? What would we like to see over the next few years?" And they thought things up and they sounded reasonable.
But Jeremiah says these visions were intrinsically corrupted because they did not come from God; they came from their own minds.
Now if vision sounds too strong a word for some of us, and even a word we might be very nervous about. ("What do you mean visions? I am not sure about this at all.")
The same thing is said in Psalm 37:4 but much more perhaps accessibly to many of us than the word vision because in Psalm 37:4 David says,
"Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart."
Delight yourself in God and He will give you the desires of your heart.
Now there are two ways to read that verse - there is a wrong way and there is a right way. The wrong way to read that verse is to say, "Delight yourself in God and He will give you whatever you want." So delight yourself in God and you would like a million bucks; well, God will give it to you.
Now there are those who do interpret this verse that way; I have heard it misinterpreted like that.
The right way to interpret this verse is this: you delight yourself in God and the desires of your heart will be God-given desires. Notice the condition: you delight yourself in God. That goes back to the verse I just quoted: "In all your ways acknowledge Him." It goes back to your dependence on Him, your obedience to Him, your love for Him, your intimacy with Him.
You delight yourself in God and the desires of your heart are God-given desires.
In the New Testament Paul wrote to the Philippians - Philippians 2:12:
"Work out your salvation with fear and trembling," (and then he tells you why) "for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose."
So he says God works in you to will, to put the right motivation, the right desires into your heart and then the enabling to fulfill them. But God works in you to will, that your desires are God-given.
I have often had a conversation about maybe a decision somebody has to make or something they want to do and they ask the question, "Is this my will or is this God's will? Because I am concerned it's my will, not God's will"
I have learned to answer that question by saying, "Have you ever thought about the fact that it could be both? It is your will and it is God's will. And the reason why it is your will is because it is God's will and if you delight yourself in the Lord, He will give you the desires of your heart, so it is your will because it is God's will and He has put that into your heart.
Let me just share how I learned this a little bit in my own experience. I studied for three years in Glasgow in Scotland at the Bible Training Institute there. At the end of those three years I didn't know what I should be doing. I knew generally that I felt God had called me to preach. I didn't know where or in what capacity.
When I came to the end of the course, the summer that lay ahead was full with invitations I had to do some camps and some youth missions and that kind of thing. And so I thought, well, I will see the summer through and see what happens after that. So I went through the summer. By the end of the summer, my fall calendar had filled up and the winter was filling up with invitations to churches and youth events and so on.
And I thought, well, maybe I would just continue doing this, I don't know. But by December of that year I had six invitations to work full-time in six different settings. Three of them were invitations from churches who had invited me to join their staff, or in some cases they had no staff so, "come and be our pastor" or whatever category they put that into - one of them was "come and be our full-time worker", which means do as much as you can that nobody else is doing.
Two of them were invitations to work with evangelistic organizations as an evangelist. One of them was to work with an organization that would involve part administration and part preaching.
So I had these six invitations and all of them had something about them that was attractive to me, but I didn't know which one was the right one that I should go with.
So I went to see a very wise man who I knew and I said to him, you know, "I've got these six invitations to these six possibilities; which one of these do you think is right?"
So I told him what they were and he said to me, "Probably none of them."
I said, "Why not?"
He said, "If on the one hand you are saying, 'Should I work with a local church in a pastoral capacity, should I be an evangelist, should I be involved in administration?'" He said, "Clearly, if you are asking those equally, you don't have a clear sense of vision as to what your life should consist of."
I said, "What do you mean?"
And I remember he explained to me about the need to get a vision from God for your life. Well, nobody had ever talked to me about that before. He said, "What I would do if I were you, is leave aside those six things and ask God for a vision."
Well I didn't know how to ask God for a vision, but I went away for two days on my own and I took with me my Bible and an empty notebook. And I spent those two days reading my Bible, praying. I walked many miles along some of the English country lanes where I was staying, where I was on my own. And I didn't know how to go about this so I thought, well, let me, let me begin to write down the things that I would really, really like to do and that I feel maybe I should do.
And I wrote a lot of things; I crossed out a lot of things; I thought with my pen and allowed the process - sometimes writing things down helps to clarify them. And at the end of those two days, I had a list of six things that I thought I really wanted to do; it was the only criteria by which I could measure them.
I went home and I looked at the six invitations that I had and none of them fitted the six things on my list. So I remember writing a letter to all six saying, "Well thank you very much for inviting me to be part of your church or organization but I don't feel that it's the right thing for me."
And I remember going down to the mailbox to mail those six letters - it was actually Christmas Day that I did this - that I at least went to mail them. And I remember standing outside the mailbox down the road from where I lived and I put three in straightaway; that was easy. And I thought, well, I'll hang on to these other three, you know, maybe, maybe, you know, I should keep these for a while just in case nothing else comes up. And then I put another one in and then I had two left.
I remember standing there with these two envelopes in my hand and suddenly I put them in the box and they disappeared from view and they were gone. And I thought, "I have closed every one of those six doors."
I remember walking back about the 300 metres to our house and I felt like a tremendous weight had lifted off my back. I was free for whatever it is that God had for me.
Less than a week later I was travelling up in the north of England. I called into Capernwray Hall. Capernwray Hall, many of you know, is a conference centre and a Bible School. I had spent a lot of time there. I had been a student there for a year. I had worked there in my school holidays in my teens. And I called in, stayed overnight, and while I was there, Major Ian Thomas, who was the founder and director of Capernwray said to me, "Come and have a cup of coffee with me."
So I went to his office and sat down with him and he said, "What are you going to do with your life?"
I said, "I don't know."
And then he said, "How would you like to work with us?"
So I said, "What do you have in mind?"
And he just talked off the top of his head basically but he gave me six things, and those six things were on my list. So I said to him, "Yes."
And his response was, "Well, don't be hasty; just think about this and take some time over this."
And I said, "You know I went away a few days ago for two days asking God what does He want me to do with my life. And I came home with a list of six things." I told him what the six things were.
He said, "Well that's basically what I just said to you - different order but the same thing."
I said, "That's right."
He said, "Well it looks pretty obvious doesn't it?"
He said, "Let's backdate it to midnight last night." (It was January the 1st actually, this particular day.) "Let's backdate it to midnight last night and say that as of midnight last night you are on staff at Capernwray."
He said, "Here's your job description. It's two words: Preach Christ." He said, "If you do anything else, you can look for another job. Just preach Christ. Second thing: there will be no salary; just look to God to meet your needs."
And I stayed at Capernwray Hall for 26 years. For17 of those years I had no salary. We just looked to God. We didn't ask for anything. We never had regular support. We just - I preached and I got honorariums for my preaching and so on in different places.
But then when I became principal of the Bible School, they put me on salary. And for 26 years we lived in that context knowing that God had put us there.
And when we left to come here in 2001 it was with equal certainty that this was God's doing.
But everybody's experience of course is going to be different. But now, in the language of Paul, as I look back, I had a vision from heaven.
And I want to challenge you that in living in the will of God and finding your own particular direction, your own particular role, that you seek this vision from heaven.
And I want to suggest to you three things that probably will be features of that vision. The first thing I suggest to you is that it will energize you. There are some things that drain us, but vision will energize you.
You know Paul wrote about his own ministry in Colossians 1:29 when he said this:
"I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me."
He says, "I labor, I struggle." Elsewhere he talked about the battles that he faced and the obstacles that he faced and the opposition that he had to deal with. But he says, "I labor with His energy; I am energized by this. It's divine energy of course but I'm energized by it."
Twelve years ago, as some of you know, I had a heart attack and some permanent damage was done to my heart. And three months after my heart attack - it took place here in Canada but I was still living in England then. But when I was back home in England, the cardiologist that I was dealing with in Britain; I had a meeting with him. And he said, "We need to talk now about the rest of your life." (It took three months to begin to get strong again.)
And he said, "You know, there is some permanent damage that was done to your heart and that is not going to correct itself with time. Part of your heart was stunned and that rejuvenates; part of it died and that will not regenerate. So the rejuvenation is going on for part of it. But part of it will not get right and so you need to think about the future." He said, "If you preach again, which I hope you do, you won't preach more than thirty minutes without being exhausted and not more than once a day."
Now I tell you, by the way, many of my friends thought that was a wonderful gift from God that I could be limited to thirty minutes- once a day is enough.
So then he gave me this brilliant advice. He said, "Find out what energizes you and focus on those things. Identify what drains you and to the best that you can, eliminate those things from your life."
Now of course, we can't - there is no ideal world where you don't engage in things that are draining to you and just the things that energize you. But as a principle, look for the things that energize you and try and steer away from the things that drain you.
And that was very good advice. I mean there are things that drain me, but there are things that energize me as well.
And I think one of the ways you recognize spiritual gifts is that spiritual gifts energize you. Vision energizes you. You can go a lot further and a lot longer when you are living in a context where you have vision and where you are gifted because vision draws you; it doesn't drive you. There are things which drive you (I gotta do it, I gotta do it, I gotta do it). There are things which draw you (I want to do it; I love to do it.)
And I have given that advice of my cardiologist to a lot of people since. Find out what energizes you; make that priority in your life. By the way, I am grateful to say that he was wrong in his prognosis that I would not preach more than 30 minutes and I would be exhausted. I thank God that although the damage is there, it has not expressed itself in that way - at least not yet. So don't pray that it will, as some of you probably would like to.
But the first point, the first feature I suggest of vision is it energizes you. One is it energizes you.
Second thing, it will be external to you. By that I mean this: it will have outward focus; it won't be self-serving; it will be about serving the needs of other people.
You know, Jesus said about discipleship in Matthew 16:25, "Whoever wants to save his life - that is you're self-oriented - will lose it. But whoever loses his life - who gives it away - will find life."
Some of us are attending the Quest, which is the men's meeting that takes place on Wednesday mornings at 6 a.m. (Us, notice I said.) And the theme of this season of the Quest is the paradox principle that says you have to die in order to live. And this is worked out in the area of your personal life, in the area of marriage, in the area of family, in the area of the workplace.
But this is the principle of discipleship - you need to die to live. Looking after me first has nothing to do with the Christian life. And looking after my interests is not a worthy vision. It is outward looking.
Hilary and I have tried to bring up our family in an atmosphere where other people are our reason for being. You don't need to talk about it because your kids will imbibe it if you live it - where other people are our reason for being. And this is simply being disciple, being a disciple.
But vision will be external. That's where the seduction of wealth becomes so destructive, when wealth becomes an end in itself, rather than a means to an end. There is nothing wrong with wealth; there are good things about wealth of course, but only as a means to an end.
And I will just read you what Paul said to Timothy about this. He said,
"People who want to get rich" (he is talking about Christians here) - Christians "who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction.
"For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
But you, man of God, flee from all of this."
Now you read that carefully; there is a whole catalogue of disaster in those verses about people - Christians - who want to be rich. They fall into temptation and a trap. They fall into foolish and harmful desires. They fall into ruin, he says, and destruction. They wander from the faith. They pierce themselves with many griefs because their vision is self-oriented. And so he says,
"You, man of God, flee from all of this."
A few days ago, this past week, I spoke at a pastors' conference in another city. It was a morning event from breakfast time down to lunchtime. And I took with me Nigel Barham, some of you know, who leads the move-in teams here in Toronto. And we gave him some minutes to talk about his vision there.
And one of the things he said I thought was intriguing was he said, you cannot live the American dream and be a true disciple. (Well it was cowardly of course because we weren't in America when he said it; we were in Canada.) But it was an intriguing idea and he said of course the Canadian dream is the same - we all have the same dream.
And I have been thinking about that. The phrase "the American Dream" was coined by an American writer, James Truslow Adams in 1931. And he talked about everyone having a "better, richer and happier life." Well if that is the good of the whole society we are talking about, fine. But if it's me, if it's my dream for me, it flies in the face of the paradox principle of Matthew 16 - you lose life in order to find it.
Norm O'Hara was an intern with us last year. He was a student at Tyndale and spent time working in our Global Outreach Department. And I picked up a copy just this week of the Tyndale magazine called Connection. And there is an interview with Norm and I want to read part of it to you.
He said, "After high school I got a job with a financial services company in Toronto where I worked as a foreign exchange trader. My ultimate goal was to become as successful and as rich as I could as quickly as I could. I put in very long hours and worked extremely hard for the company. I soon learned that if I was willing to compromise my character just a little and skirt around the edges of business ethics, I could become even more successful. But after several 'successful years' at this, a series of events at work and in my personal life changed my entire outlook. I began to realize I had become a Christian sell-out. I had gotten so caught up in the pursuit of what I thought was successful and worthwhile that I had settled for a career path that was shallow, self-serving and lacked lasting value and purpose. I began to realize that a truly successful and significant career was one that was Christ-centred, done with integrity, and which added value to society and that had eternal significance.
It wasn't until one night when my wife and I were praying for just a glimpse of what we ought to do next that it came to me."
(Notice, by the way, it came while they were praying. That's a pattern, by the way, in Scripture too.)
"Although much of what I had accomplished in my brief business life was really a disservice to the marketplace, I couldn't escape the fact that I loved the business world and I thrived in a corporate setting. What if I could combine my interest and passion in business with my desire to live a truly significant kingdom focused life? With this new revelation I moved back into business."
And then he explains over the page how back in the business world he is now living for the benefit of other people and living for eternal values.
Norm O'Hara has a vision from heaven. And it has put him back in the same context with a totally different agenda.
And that leads me to the third thing. A vision will energize; it will be external in its orientation. And the third thing, it will be eternal in its significance.
Jesus talked about this in Matthew 6:19-20 when He said,
"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth."
By the way, notice that - not "do no store up treasures", but "do not store up for yourselves" - it's the selfish accumulation of goods here. There is no intrinsic evil in treasures or wealth of course; there is no virtue in either wealth or poverty in itself.
"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.
"But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal."
In other words, treasures on earth are temporary and treasures in heaven are lasting.
Now of course life includes material things. Of course we live in a material world. Of course we handle material things. Of course there are those who have a lot of it and those who have a little of it. But what Jesus says is that whether you have a lot or a little, your life is about treasures in heaven, laying up treasures in heaven.
That is, your life in the business place, in the marketplace, in whatever sphere God has placed you, is about His agenda, about His purposes, about fulfilling His reasons for placing you there. And those will be eternal in their dimension. And that of course makes it exciting because it won't finish the moment you drop dead or retire.
And there's that old song - I am not sure if it is an old spiritual or whether it is more recent than that but it's simple but it's got a great message in it.
This world is not my home; I'm just a passing through.
My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue.
It's the kind of thing you stick on a guitar and just strum it and hum it and sing it but it's profound. This world is not my home. Our treasures are elsewhere.
So what is a vision? It is that which comes from heaven that God puts into your heart. You delight yourself in God. He puts the desires into your heart. It will energize you; it will be external in its focus. It'll be eternal in its consequences.
And my second point is: what do you do with a vision? I haven't time to talk about this as much as I would like to; maybe we will come back to it another time. But what do you do with a vision?
Well let me say this: if a vision is from heaven, it will have a life of its own. You don't have to make it work. When God gives you a sense of direction or God gives you a vision, sometimes it's good just to tuck it away into that corner in your heart.
You know I love Nehemiah and the fact that when Nehemiah was in Susa, the capital of Persia - the Israelites had been taken off into exile and the Persians had a policy of repatriation of their occupied peoples and so they were letting some Jews go back to Israel.
And Nehemiah had a key position in the royal palace in Susa and he got word that the city walls had broken down and it broke his heart. It says he cried, he wept and God put in his heart a vision to rebuild the city walls. And I love the fact that it says in Nehemiah Chapter 2:12, it says,
"I did not tell anyone what God had put in my heart to do for Jerusalem."
I love that, that he tucked it away, didn't tell anyone. "If this is from God, then I have sensed it, I discern it, and in the course of time the pieces of the jigsaw necessary to make it into a complete picture will begin to fall into place. In the meantime, tuck it away and I didn't tell anybody."
I love the fact that Mary said something similar when Mary had been told that the baby she would give birth to would be the Son of God, He would be the Saviour of the world.
And it says that Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. She never told anybody.
She never talked to the neighbors and said, "What kind of boy have you got? What kind of boy is he? Is he good?"
"Yeah, he's good, fine."
"You know, my boy Jesus - you've seen Him around, yeah? Do you know who He really is?"
She never told anybody. She didn't even tell His brothers. He had a number of brothers and sisters. Most began with "J" you remember? There was Judas, there was James, there was Jude (did I say Judas?) and there was Simon and there were some sisters.
And when Jesus began to preach, it was His brothers who were offended by Him, it says. Mary had never told them. She never said to the other boys and the girls, "Hey, come over here, man, have you ever wondered why your older brother is so good? Have you ever wondered why we never smack Him?" (It was allowed in those days, you see.) "Wonder why we never tell Him off? I'll tell you - don't tell anybody else - He's God."
Wouldn't you want to blast it all over the neighbourhood? She kept it in her heart.
You can spoil things by talking too soon. Tuck it away because, as we are going to see in the course of the next few weeks, there are lots of other factors that come to play in this as well. You tuck it away.
As I mentioned, Paul didn't get on his missionary journey for at least 12 years, but he had vision. ("And I was not disobedient to that vision from heaven.") But he went back to Tarsus, which is up in Asia Minor and he waited there until actually Barnabas, years later, came to find him and said, "I remember you and you are a man with potential. Come down to Antioch and help me in Antioch."
And he preached for a year in Antioch. At the end of that time, the leaders, the elders of the church in Antioch were fasting and praying and the Holy Spirit said, "Set apart Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them."
And pieces began to come together and Paul, "Aha, this is what I heard, 13,14 years ago."
You know sometimes our visions die. If you read Genesis, God gave that vision to Abraham. 25 years later Isaac came. It was a vision about a people and a place and a purpose.
In fact the story of the Old Testament is keeping the people, the place and the purpose together in one place. If the people get in the wrong place they lose the purpose. If the people forget the purpose, they can be in the right place but nothing will happen. It's keeping those three together - that's the story of the Old Testament.
Isaac gave birth to Jacob. Jacob gave birth to twelve sons, one of whom was Joseph who went down to Egypt. The people came down to join him. And at the end of the book of Genesis, they are in Egypt and the last four words of the book of Genesis talks about Joseph dying and it says he was placed in - these are the last four words - a coffin in Egypt.
That's a depressing end to that book. How does the book finish? "A coffin in Egypt." Dead in the wrong place.
And then silence comes over the story for 400 years. There's as big a gap between Genesis and Revelation as there is between the Old Testament Malachi and the New Testament Matthew - 400 years.
And as far as we know in 400 years God said nothing. They were in the wrong place and they eventually became enslaved and when the curtain rises again (Exodus Chapter 1), they are enslaved, beaten down.
You know sometimes God gives a vision and it seems you put it in a coffin and you have to bury it. You say, "God, it is never going to come to pass."
500 years later and Joshua - what is it - Joshua 24, when Joshua went back to Canaan with the people - led them in. They went back to Egypt to get Joseph's bones and they brought his bones to put the right person in the right place for the right purpose.
It is a beautiful symbolic picture that the coffin in Egypt, that the vision, the dream that God had given to Abraham and his family had to be buried.
And sometimes God gives you a vision and it seems to die. Nothing seems to work out. And God is not in a hurry like we are.
I talked about Abraham - 25 years before he had his son. Moses - 40 years before he got out to lead the Israelites out of Israel. Paul - 12-13 years before he began his mission to the Gentile world.
But if it is a vision from God, it will have a life of its own. Remember God's delays are not God's denials. Somebody said that to me many years ago and it was very helpful to me at the time.
God's delays are not God's denials.
And as I finish, I said at the beginning I was going to say something to the older people at the end. I have run out of time, but I will just tell you this: Acts 2:17 Peter quotes the prophet Joel about what will happen when the Holy Spirit is poured out, as He was on the day of Pentecost and as He is today because He was poured out once; He is available to us now.
One of the features of the Holy Spirit's work will be this:
"Your young men will see visions and your old men will see dreams."
That's an inclusive statement. Your young people will see vision; your old people will see dreams."
What is the difference? I suggest to you the difference is probably this: vision is something that you are part of. Young people, you need vision.
Old people dream dreams. That is still seeing and looking into the future but you are not going to be part of it; you will be gone. And the work of the Holy Spirit includes old people going on dreaming dreams as, as young people they were seeing vision.
Can I say this to older folks amongst us? (And I am getting into that category.) The lazy thing to do as an old person is to look back and wish you could go back and want to go back and feel the old times were the good times, and your vision comes out of the back of your head, not the front. And you will stagnate what God is doing.
But the wonderful thing is that as young people see vision and we are part of it - this is what God is doing - old people will dream the same dreams. "Yeah, I'll be gone in a few years but I dream the dreams that God has given to young people as vision.
Because the Holy Spirit is relentlessly forward looking, relentlessly forward looking. All the Old Testament is looking forward, looking forward, looking forward. Everything God said to Abraham, everything God said to Moses about the future, what's coming.
Why do we have a category of people we call prophets in the Old Testament? Because what prophets do is look ahead. And as we look ahead, we are energized - even old people could be energized by what God is doing both personally and corporately.
You see without a vision, is the King James rendering of a verse in Proverbs - it's not actually an accurate translation but it's a great phrase so we'll quote it anyway:
"Without a vision people perish."
What that means is this: without a vision they dry up, without a vision they go to sleep, without a vision they get stuck.
And we need vision personally. That's what we are talking about - living in the will of God. We need it corporately too. But personally in your own life, I want to say to you - especially if you are young, with all the career opportunities open to you, get alone with God and just ask Him, "What is Your agenda? What is it that You have for my life that will not only energize, not only be external, outward looking, but will be eternal in its significance?"
So if I happen to die 5 years from now, that's okay. My life is not about time anymore. If I die 50 years from now, 70 years from now, that's okay too. It's not about time; it's about eternal things.
And I will tell you something - that will energize you.
Let's pray together. Father we thank You so much this morning that You are alive, You are in business; You are active in our own hearts. And for every one of us here, You do guide our steps; You lead us in paths that are good. And we thank You for that. Thank You that corporately You lead us too. But I pray that here in this place there will be hundreds of us who have no ambition other than that which has come from heaven through Your Word and by Your Spirit. And thank You for the blessing that will come to other people as we live that way. For we pray it in Jesus' Name. Amen.